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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Book Review: "Love Wins"

TITLE: Love Wins - A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.
AUTHOR: Rob Bell
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: HarperOne, 2011.

It has been a few months since this book was launched. About two months ago, I collected a few links of both positive and negative reviews on the book. The book's controversy lies in the book's apparent departure away from orthodox evangelical beliefs, by a prominent evangelical pastor of a MegaChurch.  I delayed my review partly because I want to let the hype fade away first. Here is my opinion.

What the Book is About
Beginning with an annoyance over the seemingly insensitive remark about Gandhi being in hell, Love Wins is an attempt to re-state the meaning of heaven, hell, and the salvation of the world. The book is Bell's attempt to answer the 'cock-sure' perspective of some Christians over heaven, hell and salvation.

"But this isn't just a book of questions. It's a book of responses to these questions." (19)

On heaven, Bell rejects the traditional understanding of heaven as a 'forever' place. Instead, he directs the reader to see heaven in terms of 'name of God.' Heaven to him is essentially the available in the present (62).

On hell, Bell makes it his personal crusade against people advocating a 'turn or burn' imperative. He does it by saying 'hell' in Hebrew is simply 'Gehenna' a backyard dump in the ancient land of Palestine. He compares the difference between heaven and hell like the difference between the rich man and Lazarus. Calling Jesus' parable of hell more as a 'hyperbole,' Bell is sure about the use of the word 'hell' as one that is a 'loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious word' to describe the consequences of rejecting God.' (93)

My Comments

Anyone looking for a quick answer to the questions about heaven, hell, and the destiny of men will be understandably frustrated by the unending number of questions Bell raise. The new sets of questions themselves remain unanswered. Bell blasts those who claim absolute certainty about a certain interpretation of heaven and hell. He then leaves a huge vacuum that confuses more than clarifies. While he is careful not to become judgemental like those he is crusading against, he does the reader no favour by not giving clear answers himself. There is a sense of theological 'dizziness' after reading the book.

On the positive side, there are moments of exegetical brilliance, especially his reading on the parables and Jesus. There are many biblical allusions to his points, even though there are no explicit references to Scripture. After shooting down the traditional interpretations of heaven and hell, Bell makes known his main point: Love Wins.

On the negative scale, Bell is promoting a form of Jesus-based Universalism. This is like saying all roads lead to God indirectly through Jesus. He cleverly takes a hybrid approach to salvation. First, he affirms that the way to God is through Jesus. Second, he affirms that there are many ways to Jesus. (154-5)

In other words, instead of saying there are many ways to God (universalism), he says there are many ways to Jesus, who is the way to God.

Frankly, Page 1 begins with high anticipation, but Page 198 ends with a monotonous whimper. At one point, I am not sure where the author is going, with his cycle of dizzy questions of each issue. This book has become so hyped up that I do not find it such a big deal to quarrel over it.

If you want to read the book, save your money. Borrow it from the library.

Rating: 2.75 stars of 5.



  1. I've bumped into Rob Bell (figuratively of course) these past few weeks, and read about his controversial book, coming out, Love Wins. It's a great book, even if you don't agree with everything in it. Not only does it stir up discussion and keep us inspired religiously, it will introduce many people who have not been active in this front.

    1. Hi Italia,

      You are right to say that we do not need to agree with everything the writer says. The book does stir up a lot of things which is why it is controversial in the first place. What makes me give it a thumbs down is that the book's theology confuses more rather than it clarifies. There is another book that provides an alternative interpretation called 'God Wins' by Mark Galli. Having said that, I agree with you that the book does makes for good discussion time.

      Thanks for commenting.